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The Homepage of Alan Cook

Summer 2000

Faith Community United Methodist Church Youth Group

Mission Trip to Hungary & Austria

"Hands and Feet"

Hearing the call, Nancy (McKell) Gomez decided to take her youth group from Faith Community United Methodist Church in West Chester, Ohio on a mission trip to Budapest, Hungary. Her brother and sister-in-law, Ed and Kim McKell had been missionaries in Budapest for 2 years and although they were back living and working in Chillicothe, Ohio they still had lots of contacts to help with the arrangements.

I was invited to be the male chaperone when Ed found out that his work schedule would prevent him from going. The mission trip was two weeks and consisted of working on a flood wall along the Tisza River in northern Hungary, visiting an orphanage and performing street ministry in Kaposvar in the southern part of the country and site-seeing in Budapest and Vienna, Austria.

The entire youth group in Hero's Square, Budapest, Hungary

"HI" from Budapest!

Karen, Jena and me in Tisza, Hungary

Alan's Summer Vacation 2000

When I found out that my friends Karen and Jena were staying behind in Europe and traveling for an additional 2 weeks (they are teachers, too), I couldn't pass up the opportunity to tour the continent and visit a few friends. I bought a Eurail Pass made a few plans to hook up with Emanuela in Italy and Magali in Paris.

Karen, Jena and I boarded a train in Budapest and traveled to Salzburg, Austria where we spent 2 nights. We spent a day touring the city and went on the "Sound of Music" tour. Amazingly enough, the girl on the bunk bed beneath me in the hostel was from Centerville, Ohio and had been in a church youth group with some of the scouts that I knew from camp and her brother played with Jena's brother on Ohio State's ultimate team. Small world, huh?

Karen and Jena at the fortress in Salzburg, Austria

Jena and Karen were on the whirlwind tour and headed off to Switzerland. I went south through the Alps into Italy and met a former Chillicothe City Schools exchange student (who also was an active Discipleship member while she lived in Chillicothe). Emanuela met me in Milan and we took a train to her home town so I could meet her parents (who didn't speak any English) and eat "real" Italian food. They fed me pizza for dinner and the next day a traditional meal that had 3 courses! I didn't go away hungary!

Visiting with Emanuela Pirola in Milan, Italy

Emanuela with her mother and father

After visiting with the Pirola family, I traveled by train to Venice. I spent almost a week in Rome and toured the Roman ruins and the Vatican. Then I went to Florence to see Michael Angelo's "The David" and the Iffuzi. The hostel in Florence was recommended since it was a villa that had been donated to the International Youth Hostel association. After having spent many nights in hostels that were more like "dorms" and located in busy innercity areas, I was pleased to camp out in a tent in Florence for a mere $4.

I left the heat of Italy on an overnight train to meet friends and former Chief Logan Staff members in Paris, France. Raymond Tsang, a good friend from Hong Kong, had been in England visiting relatives and had come to Paris with his girlfriend and brother. My good friend, Magali Palgen, agreed to be my translator and tour guide while in Paris. We all stayed in the same hotel and spent a few days sightseeing and evenings eating out.

Magali and I saw "The Patriot" in Paris. We chose a showing that was subtitled in French and had the original English soundtrack. But I was entertained by the snide remarks about the French during the Revolutionary War that got the entire audience very defensive.

Visiting with Raymond, his girlfriend and Magali in Paris, France

Magali and me on the Eiffel Tower

In front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Magali and me at Versailles Palace in Paris, France.

Although I tried to convince Raymond and Magali that we should go to the top of the Eiffel tower and sing "Friends", a CLR tradition, no one would take me up on the idea.

Magali had to return to Belgium for a cub scout camp but suggested we spend some time at the beach near Brittany in France since she was also on her summer vacation. We spent the night at her cousin's home outside Paris. Magali's cousin suggested the south of France since the beaches were nicer. We made plans to meet in one week in Marseille. Magali would drive her car down and bring a tent so that we could go camping.

After hearing so many good things about Spain and few good reports about Germany from other travelers, I hopped a night train headed for Barcelona. I was lucky to find a place to stay since all of the hostels and hotels seemed to be booked. I quickly made friends in the train station and the five of us joined forces to find a hostel. We ended up at "Angie's" that had 20 open beds and was full of English speaking travelers. I spent the days touring Barcelona and seeing sights such as Gaudi's artwork, the Picasso museum, the Olympic stadium and a few days on the beach.

One of the most interesting things that happened in Barcelona was a poster on the walI for a place called "Tossa de Mar" that included a small handwritten sign that read "Make Reservations with Us". I inquired with Angie about the hostel in Tossa, but her English was very poor and she could only ask me over and over "You go to Tossa?" so I eventually gave in and said, "Yes".

View of Tossa de Mar (and a handwritten note said "Make Reservations with Us")

I had no idea exactly where I was going or how I was getting there, but on the afternoon I was scheduled to leave a man with a tiny car picked me up and drove me up the coast to Tossa. I was stunned when we drove through the crowded streets and past the normal accomodations and to the castle on the peninsula. We parked outside the castle wall and he lead me through a doorway and down a short walkway to a large doorway. For a mere $8 a night, I found myself staying in an apartment that most of the tourists mistook for a part of the castle museum!

This was the perfect ending to my trip and I spent most of my time on the beach. The apartment included a kitchen and living room downstairs and three bedrooms with a total of ten beds upstairs. Unlike a typical hostel with constant supervision, this place offered a more relaxed atmosphere and amazingly there was only one other traveler staying with me. Trent was from Melbourne, Australia and we quickly became friends as I shared my stories of traveling to Australia. We made plans to go next door to the local tavern, Snoppy's, and played pool and foozball. We got the attention of a group from Germany and found ourselves being challenged to a game of pool. We won and they bought us drinks. Soon we were leaving Snoopy's and wandering around the city with our new German friends and they were a wild group.

For those who don't know about the Spanish culture, the daily schedules are very different. Lunchtime is between 1 and 4pm followed by a siesta. Most people don't eat dinner until 9pm and it's not uncommon to see an entire family eating out around midnight. It's unusual to see an entire city filled with people up to all hours of the night and wandering around.

Two of my new friends from Barcelona came up for my last night in Tossa and Judy wanted to sleep on the beach (we had done this in Barcelona, too). I left early in the morning to catch a train in Girona to meet Magali in the south of France.

Here's the apartment I stayed at in Tossa de Mar inside the castle walls.

View of the castle from where I was lying on the beach. Through that doorway and down a few steps to the apartment!

Many of my students that have viewed my web page often ask me about the "nude" beach. For those that have never traveled outside North America, it is typical for females to consider bathing suit tops to be optional at recreational swimming areas (such as the beach, lake, river and at the pool) in most other parts of the world. As an American, it took some time to become accustomed to seeing women and girls topless or changing clothing right in front of you on the beach. Americans are very puritanical about public nudity but in most other parts of the world it's just natural and a part of their culture. Although there were public nude beaches in Barcelona, Spain and in Sydney, Australia–the normal beaches were more than enough to challenge my prudish American thinking.

View of the beach from the castle.

Magali and her sister, Stephanie, drove down from Belgium to meet me in the south of France. She brought a tent and camping gear so we could stay in low cost campgrounds for about $10/night and cooked most of our food. We toured the coast and got plenty of days on the beach before heading north to see the sights of Provence.

Although I had seen fields of sunflowers all across Europe, the ones in Provence were brilliant. When Magali, Stephanie and I went hiking from our campground we passed many of these fields. We spent an evening at a local park, went to a Geoffrey Oryema (this African artist even did a few songs in English!) concert in Aix, visited Pablo Piccaso's South of France chateau where he's buried in the courtyard, went to a Lavender Festival and climbed a mountain.

Stephanie didn't like the hiking, so she stayed in the campsite while Magali and I spent the day climbing this mountain, Saint Victorie. It was an all day adventure and we ran out of water before reaching the top (we didn't heed the sign at the base of the mountain). It reminded me of hiking at Philmont.

Magali and Stephanie at the aquaduct in Avignon

"Hup, hup...hup, hup!" Stephanie said this a lot! Must be a Belgian teenager thing.

Stephanie didn't speak English, but she would often ask me, "Alan...what time is it?" and I'd show her my watch. Magali once left us alone to set up the tent and we had an argument about where to put it, mostly with hand gestures and lots of pointing. I think Magali was trying to get her sister to learn some English but I think she got stressed out having conversations in two different languages with both Stephanie and myself. I was frustrated when the two of them would begin arguing and yelling in French at each other.

Magali didn't appreciate being called "madame" by the other families camped around us and resented that she looked old enough to have a 14 year old daughter. On the other hand, if you saw us camped in a tent together I guess you'd make the same assumption especially since there were mostly families in these campgrounds.

We arrived back in Belgium and I spent a few days visiting with the Palgen family while waiting for a flight home to the USA. I got to see Magali's new apartment and go with the Palgen family on a "walking club" activity.

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This page was last updated Mon, Jul 23, 2001
©1999 Alan W. Cook (contents)
©1999 John Ringloff (design/layout, used with permission)